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Honest investigation all that’s required

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

Do you sometimes worry that you made a mistake during an investigation? Or that you believed the wrong person? You needn’t lose sleep over it. Courts won’t second-guess your decisions if they believe you acted reasonably and in good faith.

Recent case: Jessica worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Amylin Pharmaceuticals and worked out of her home. The company re­­quired reps to make frequent sales calls to medical practices in their territories and expected full-time field work.

When Jessica went back to work after giving birth to her first child, her sales numbers began to fall. Her supervisor became suspicious and decided to investigate how she spent her days. After scheduling a meeting with Jessica, he drove by her house and saw her company-issued vehicle parked in the open garage.

He then asked her at the meeting where she had been that day, and she told him she had been on a sales visit. She also informed him that she was pregnant.

The supervisor then requested permission to discharge her for dishonesty and Jessica changed her story. She was fired anyway.

Jessica sued, alleging she was fired on account of her pregnancy.

Amylin pointed out that it had welcomed Jessica back after her previous maternity leave and insisted it fired her after investigating her whereabouts.

The court said that Jessica hadn’t shown that her discharge was re­­lated to her pregnancy. Plus, even if Amylin’s investigation hadn’t been perfect, it was good enough to support that Jessica’s dishonesty and performance were why she was fired, not her pregnancy. (Simpson v. Amylin, No. 1:11-cv-00301, WD NC, 2013)

Final note: Declining performance often indicates an underlying problem, but smart employers don’t pry too deeply. They focus on concrete and specific work issues rather than opening up an opportunity for the employee to make excuses.

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